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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The War of the Buttons

So, all this recent news about the 3DS Slide Pad accessory, and the PS Vita.... I think I'm starting to see where the second front/phase of the Handheld War is going.

2004: Sony jumps into the handheld gaming market, expectations are high & they deliver a pretty powerful machine in the PSP. Nintendo's DS is no slouch either, and through the DS Lite becomes the most successful gaming handheld.

So between 2004-2006/2007 or so, the main gaming handheld battle was between Sony & Nintendo. But in that time Apple jumps in with the iPod Touch, and in the last few years the Apple App & Android App market have exploded (mostly Apple)... Smartphone gaming is a significant share of handheld gaming-- and it's only growing bigger.

With the upcoming release of the 3DS Slidepad accessory, looking at it... how it's kind of "core audience" in that it looks built for gamers (duh).... I think Nintendo is saying, "we have physical controls". That's completely what the accessory is about isn't it?

And that's the key fundamental difference in gaming on a smartphone or iPod Touch, than gaming on a 3DS/PS Vita.

The same strategy was used by Sony when they announced the Xperia Play: they based a whole ad campaign, creepy as it was, on that what sets the Xperia Play apart from other phones is that it has physical game controls. (Of course Sony being Sony, they had to find a way to screw it up-- making the analogue touch pads, rather than actual nubs.)

It's a big contentious point that touchscreen controls can't substitute for actual analogue sticks & buttons.

This seems to be where the next phase of the handheld war is going. Do you want actual physical controls on a dedicated gaming device, or do you want a one-size-tries-to fit-all touchscreen controls on a more versatile, pocketable device which is not necessarily optimized for gaming?

Nintendo seems to have solidified that philosophy with the Wii U controller, how it harkens back to dual analogue controls & buttons yet still keeps the touchpad for fleixibility. But they either shipped the 3DS too early, or just didn't get the memo with that console, because it's really far too much like a DS than it should be in terms of buttons, controls, shape, etc. Way too conservative a step for a next-gen console.

So now they're trying to backtrack a bit & get a bit more "hardcore" with it?

The physical controls feature & deeper gameplay are the 2 biggest assets Nintendo/Sony have with their handhelds. The problem with the deeper gameplay argument is that the nature of handheld gaming itself kinda plays against the idea of games that need to be played for hours & hours to make progress. I personally *DO* play my handhelds for hours & hours but a lot of people argue that if they wanted to do that they'd just play a full-sized home game console, especially if it's between the same franchise of game (God of War PS3 vs PSP for example)

So that basically just leaves physical controls as the biggest draw for the 3DS/PS Vita. The key to all this is... now what are the software developers going to DO with those physical controls... if we get some amazing killer apps to come out for the 3DS/PS Vita-- games that people will buy the systems just to play-- the war will shift in their favour. They kind of need an Angry Birds sort of success. (Yes, Angry Birds is available on their handhelds, but it's way more ideal on the iOS/smartphone platform.)


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